Blood and Iron is the first book in Campbell award winning author Elizabeth Bear’s urban fantasy series, “The Promethean Age.” The third book in the series will be out on July 1 and a fourth book is scheduled for release on August 5 of this year. With its lush prose, gray characters, and interweaving of mythology, Blood and Iron was a very enchanting story with enough complexity that a reread would be beneficial.
Unknown to most, the world of Faerie co-exists with the modern world. However, there are some mages with knowledge of this other world who have formed the Prometheus Club for the purpose of eradicating it. When the story begins, the mage Matthew feels the presence of a faerie and chases after her to find it is the Seeker of one of the two faerie queens, who is bound to serve her queen by bringing her half-faerie children. He witnesses Seeker’s binding of an ancient powerful water horse intent on capturing the same girl the faerie servant is after – a feat that should have been beyond her abilities. Matthew manages to give Seeker his contact card before she rushes back to her realm but he knows she is forbidden to use it and couldn’t even if she wanted to.
Once Seeker returns to faerie, the queen informs her that a new merlin, a being that does not just practice magic but is pure magic, exists and charges her with convincing this merlin to join their side in the war against the humans. Seeker goes to find this man, who to her great surprise, turns out to be the first female merlin in history. Soon she and Matthew are both vying for the merlin’s trust as they both attempt to get her to see the sense of joining their respective groups.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot other than what is revealed in the first three or four chapters since this is one of those books where part of the fun is figuring out all the connections. Bear throws you right into the story and how everything fits together is not immediately apparent. It is more subtle than a lot of fantasy novels and readers will need to pay attention to understand it – the author doesn’t always come right out and spell it out for you. There are a lot of references to various mythologies of the British Isles in this book and the legends of Tam Lin and King Arthur are both prominent. Minor characters include King Arthur, Morgan La Fey, and Puck, and some historical figures have significance to the story as well. Although I knew quite a few of the references in this book, I still feel like I was missing a lot of them. It’s one of those books that would probably come together better on a reread.
The characters in this book were realistic (well, as much as magic users and faeries can be). By realistic, I mean that they were neither good nor bad, although many of the character’s actions are decidedly worse than what most of us would encounter in every day life. The Prometheans had an understandable motivation for their hatred of faerie and many of the faeries were doing what they did not through evil but because it was necessary for survival. Both sides committed horrific acts but both of these groups also had a reason for what they did. I loved the characters, though, especially that of Whiskey, the water horse.
This is a dark fantasy – hard choices are made and it’s not a happy Disney story where everything works out for the best in the end. It’s more along the lines of the original Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
There is one part of this book which is a little jarring – at one point the point of view switches from third person to first person rather suddenly. It makes sense somewhat in context of the event, but it is a bit confusing since it’s a few paragraphs from the end of a chapter. It also does take a little bit of time to really get involved in the story since it is not clear from the start exactly what is happening, but once it gets going, it is hard to put down.
For anyone who enjoys dark fairy tales, mythology, and books that slowly reveal connections between characters and events, I highly recommend this book. Once I get the sequels, they are immediately going to the top of my to-read pile.